Grand Challenges Updates

Get the latest updates about UNM's Grand Challenges.


New Environmental-Focused Learning Academy
August 25, 2020

New Environmental-Focused Learning Academy
Check out the new Environment-Focused Learning Academy (EFLA). Clean, safe water is vital to the health of all communities, especially rural and Tribal communities. In order to more effectively engage in policy decisions and advocacy, it is important that citizens understand such basic water issues as quality, quantity, and public health. To increase public understanding, the Southwest Environmental Finance Center (SW EFC), which is part of the Center for Water and the Environment at the University of New Mexico, has created the Environment-Focused Learning Academy (EFLA) to present non-partisan, fact-based, educational information about water resources and related issues to community members and elected leaders. EFLA is a resource to hear from experts in the field on many topics related to water, wastewater, and stormwater. With a recently awarded grant, the SW EFC is working with three other University of New Mexico departments to develop videos, podcasts, and digital learning modules focused on water issues. The EFLA is made possible in part by UNM Grand Challenges pilot research funding.

Join us for the Fall 2020 Grand Challenges Welcome Back Event
September 1, 2020

Join us for the Fall 2020 Grand Challenges Welcome Back Event
Join us for the Fall 2020 Grand Challenges Welcome Back Event. We will hear updates from the Challenge team leaders, including exciting plans for the coming year. Learn how to become more engaged with UNM’s Grand Challenges research and education activities. This event will be virtual, conducted entirely through Zoom.
Date: Tuesday, September 1, 2020
Time: 11:00 am to Noon
Zoom Link: https://unm.zoom.us/j/97749744502
Passcode: Challenge

Substance Use Disorders Grand Challenge is sponsoring a graduate research training opportunity
August 12, 2020

Substance Use Disorders Grand Challenge is sponsoring a graduate research training opportunity
The Substance Use Disorders (SUDs) Grand Challenge is sponsoring a graduate research training opportunity to provide ongoing mentoring and research support for graduate students enrolled in doctoral degree programs at UNM. The goal of the Graduate Student Scholars Program is to provide one year of financial support and research mentoring from members of the SUDs Grand Challenge Leadership team for students who are interested in pursuing research related to mental health, substance use, and/or substance use disorder in New Mexico. All graduate students enrolled in a doctoral degree program at UNM are eligible to apply. Supporting the research development of members of historically disadvantaged groups is a goal of this program and students who are Black, Indigenous, Hispanic/Latinx, or LGBTQIA+ are strongly encouraged to apply. To receive the Call for Student Applications, please email timschroeder@unm.edu

UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH OPPORTUNITY CONFERENCE (UROC) 2020
June 18, 2020

UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH OPPORTUNITY CONFERENCE (UROC) 2020
In the Spring of 2020, UNM hosted UROC during the period of UNM limited operations. Nearly 50 students submitted their posters and presentations online. Four of these were selected to receive “Excellence in Undergraduate Student Research Awards, Grand Challenges,” including the following:
• Abigail Axness, Use of Continuous Water Quality Sensors to Examine Headwater Response to Snowmelt: Valles Caldera and Jemez Mountains.
• Ilona Nathania Alisudjana, Assessing Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) Treatments among Native and Non-Native Communities.
• Spencer McBee, Recreational Cannabis: Potential Factors of Expansion and Potential Effects.

COMM 1130, PUBLIC SPEAKING COURSE 2020
June 18, 2020

COMM 1130, PUBLIC SPEAKING COURSE 2020
During the Spring of 2020, Grand Challenges collaborated with COMM 1130 instructors Evan Ashworth and Nana Kwame Osei Fordjour to encourage undergraduate students to engage with one or more of the three challenges. Students were assigned a speech that focuses the importance of the challenges. Originally, these speeches were designated for delivery in the SUB. However, due to the pandemic, students instead recorded their speeches and posted them online. Six presentations were selected to receive recognition for “Excellence in Undergraduate Student Scholarship, Grand Challenges.” Among the six award winners are: Melissa Door-Rodriguez and Issa Bustria.

Congratulating Dr. Kamilla Venner
May 20, 2020

Congratulating Dr. Kamilla Venner
Join us in congratulating Dr. Kamilla Venner, a member of the UNM Grand Challenges Substance Use Disorders team. Dr. Venner’s outstanding and cutting edge work with Native Americans has been highlighted in the NIH Heal Initiative website: https://heal.nih.gov/news/stories/native-cultures

The Substance Use Disorders Grand Challenge team recently released its third request for pilot research proposals.
May 15, 2020

The Substance Use Disorders Grand Challenge team recently released its third request for pilot research proposals.
This request focused specifically on research examining the impact of COVID-19 and New Mexico stay at home orders on substance use patterns and behavioral health symptoms, as well as access to care and positive and negative consequences of stay at home orders among individuals who engage in substance use and those with substance use disorders. Four pilot projects were funded. To see these new projects, please go to: https://grandchallenges.unm.edu/three-grand-challenges/substance-use-disorders/index.html

The UNM Successful Aging Grand Challenge Team announces a Call for Proposals.
May 14, 2020

The UNM Successful Aging Grand Challenge Team announces a Call for Proposals.
We are currently requesting proposals for projects directly related to Successful Aging, compressing the “period of disability”, and COVID-19 response that address any of the four multi-disciplinary research priority areas we have identified as linked to our overall goals: science & technology; organizational innovation and effectiveness; engaging multigenerational and diverse communities; and economic development. We anticipate awarding three applications for up to $10,000 each. Pilot research projects must address one or more of the four research priority areas we have identified as linked to our overall goals. Collaborative and community-engaged research is encouraged. Priority will be given to proposals strong in scientific merit, involve multiple investigators/practitioners/educators from across central and north campuses, and highly likely to be successful in generating pilot data for extramural funding. For more information, please go to: https://grandchallenges.unm.edu/three-grand-challenges/successful-aging/index.html

UNM professor uses computational simulations to advance substance use disorder treatment
May 13, 2020

UNM professor uses computational simulations to advance substance use disorder treatment
By Sarah Carpenter

UNM Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology Yi He is leading a research project that investigates a potentially groundbreaking way to treat drug addiction. The study uses computational modeling to understand the role of the PICK1 protein in the brain of an individual suffering from drug addiction.

For a psychoactive drug to take effect in the brain, signals need to pass from one neuron to another across a gap, or synapse, between cells. To do this, one cell releases chemicals into the synapse, and the other cell detects the chemicals using receptors on the cell’s membrane. Previous studies have shown that a protein called PICK1 is responsible for embedding and removing certain receptors from the cell membrane.

These specialized chemical receptors seem to play an important role in drug addiction. He explains that an individual suffering from drug addiction has fewer receptors, on average, than a person who has not used drugs. This reduced number of receptors makes it very painful for such individuals to stop using drugs, encouraging the cycle of addiction. “The ideal scenario is that we want to restore the regular number of receptors, so that [the patient] will receive the same amount of stimulation as before they took drugs – basically, restore them to who they were before they started to take drugs,” says He.

It is believed that the PICK1 protein may hold the key to giving those suffering from drug addiction a clean slate biologically. There is a lot left to be learned about how the protein works, however, before a PICK1 treatment can be developed. He explains, “We know that PICK1’s responsibility is to transport and regulate the number of receptors on the cell surface, but how does the cell tell PICK1 to transport the receptors from inside the cell to the surface or to retrieve it back? How [does] PICK1, which is just a protein that can’t think, perform this biological function?”

To answer these questions about the mechanisms of PICK1, He and his team are using a high-performance computing cluster hosted by the Center for Advanced Research Computing to perform computational modeling. “To study the interactions with PICK1 with these receptors and to trace the whole process at an atomic resolution [using a wet lab procedure] is extremely difficult, if not impossible. That’s why we’re depending on finding a solution from a computational point of view,” He reports.

He’s study is being funded by UNM’s Substance Use Disorders Grand Challenge Award. The program funds nine projects, involving many different UNM research groups, all aimed at better understanding substance use.

This ambitious project is expected to involve five to ten years of intensive research. “Developing a drug for this protein is not a trivial process,” He comments. While the study will be laborious, its results have the potential to help millions of Americans struggling with drug addiction.


COVID-19 Rapid Response Request
April 13, 2020

COVID-19 Rapid Response Request
The Substance Use Disorders Grand Challenges Team has issued a rapid response request for proposals for projects that directly address any of the following COVID-19 related research emphases: 1) impact on substance use patterns and behavioral health symptoms of individuals who engage in substance use and those with substance use disorders; 2) impact on substance-related overdose presentations to emergency departments; 3) impact on opioid use disorder treatment in general medical settings, such as primary care; 4) impact on opioid prescribing or naloxone distribution; and 5) consequences (positive and negative) of social distancing and stay-at-home orders on substance use. Awards are for up to $5000 each, and up to five awards will be made for projects that are responsive to the current RFP. To apply, please submit the proposal as a single PDF (Four pages maximum, 11pt Arial font, single spaced with .05” margins to sudgc@unm.edu by Monday 5pm April 27, 2020. Please contact Brandi C. Fink, PhD (505-272-6045, bcfink@salud.unm.edu) with any questions. Click here to access the RFP.

Grand Challenges Coffee and Conversation
February 19, 2020

Grand Challenges Coffee and Conversation
The mountain water tower: Improving how we measure snow volume and runoff processes. Wednesday, February 19, 2020. 2:00 – 2:30 pm, Cochiti Room, 3rd Floor Student Union Building. Join us for coffee and snacks with one of UNM’s Grand Challenge researchers. Among the questions we will explore: How do UNM researchers identify specific problems to tackle? How do they design their research, and frame questions? What have they discovered so far, and how do they know these discoveries are important? How do they communicate their discoveries? Over a billion people worldwide rely on snow as a water resource. Dr. Ryan Webb (Civil, Construction & Environmental Engineering) will discuss recent advancements in techniques to quantify how much water is stored in a mountain snowpack and how it makes its way to our rivers and aquifers.

Tonigan and Pearson Awarded $2.3M Research Grant
January 16, 2020

Tonigan and Pearson Awarded $2.3M Research Grant
Supported by the Grand Challenge initiative, Drs J. Scott Tonigan and Matthew R. Pearson were recently awarded $2.3M by the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA) to support their programmatic research in a grant titled, Development of a Comprehensive and Dynamic AA Process Model: One Day at a Time. This five-year study will be housed at the Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse, and Addictions (CASAA) and will support a cadre of UNM investigators and staff. Grant-related activities will include the recruitment of a cohort of 190 adults in the early stages of AA-related recovery in years 1-4. Participants will be randomized into one of two groups: (1) fixed interviews at baseline, 3, and 6-months, and (2) the same fixed interviews plus daily reports of AA prescribed activities via mobile device technology. This project follows a line of funded programmatic research by the Tonigan-Pearson investigative team and will be the first of its kind to implement mobile device technology in understanding how and why AA participation is beneficial for many, but not all, adults with alcohol use disorders.

Water Team Selects New Pilot Projects
September 9, 2020

Water Team Selects New Pilot Projects
The Grand Challenges Sustainable Water Resources team recently announced a Call for Proposals to fund four pilot projects (up to $10,000 each) designed to build capacity to apply for larger research grants. This initiative will foster new collaborations for interdisciplinary researchers, and requires representation from at least two UNM Main Campus, HSC or Branch Campus departments or units. The team received ten high-quality proposals, and selected the four outstanding projects. Check out the GC Sustainable Water Resources page for more information.

Grand Challenges Team Selects New Pilot Projects
December 3, 2019

Grand Challenges Team Selects New Pilot Projects
The Substance Use Disorders Grand Challenge team recently released its second request for pilot research proposals. This request focused specifically on methamphetamine, alcohol mortality, and/or polysubstance use. The following three pilot projects were selected:

Effects of the 5-HT2A receptor antagonist M100907 on behavioral and neural alterations induced by chronic methamphetamine administration. Lead Investigator: Nathan Pentkowski, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology.

Ready to Change? A Microlongitudinal Study of Polysubstance Use. Lead Investigators: Frank Joseph Schwebel, Postdoctoral Fellow, CASAA; and Mateo Pearson, Assistant Professor, CASAA.

Trajectories and mental health predictors of perinatal alcohol and polysubstance use. Lead Investigators: Pilar Sanjuan, Assistant Professor, CASAA; Lawrence Leeman, Professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine; and Eric Kruger, Assistant Professor, Department of Physical Therapy.

Congratulations to all of these great investigators!

Healthy Brain Day: Get Educated on Alzheimer’s
November 22, 2019

Healthy Brain Day: Get Educated on Alzheimer’s
Dr. Janice Knoefel, one of the co-conveners of the Successful Aging team, served as the Keynote Speaker at "Healthy Brain Day: Get Educated on Alzheimer’s". This full-day free workshop was held on November 14, 2019, at the Navajo Nation Museum, and was hosted by Navajo Family Caregiver Support Program. More than 200 attendees participated in break-out sessions, conversations and panel discussions.

2020 Academic Affairs General Education Teaching Fellows
September 9, 2020

2020 Academic Affairs General Education Teaching Fellows
Congratulations to the 2020 Academic Affairs General Education Teaching Fellows focused on Grand Challenges! These seven faculty members will collaborate to leverage one or more of the UNM Grand Challenges to further enrich an existing general education course, or to develop a new general education course.

2020 Academic Affairs General Education Teaching Fellows, Grand Challenges: Leslie Donovan, Professor, Honors; Fred Gibbs, Associate Professor, History; Kuangchiu Joseph Ho, Principal Lecturer III, Director of Chemical Education; Yoo Kyung Sung, Associate Professor, Language Literacy Sociocultural Studies; Jingjing Wang, Assistant Professor, Economics; Benjamin P. Warner, Assistant Professor, Geography and Environmental Studies; Alexa Wheeler, Senior Lecturer III in Fine Arts, Program Coordinator of Film & Digital Arts. Film & Digital Arts, UNM – Valencia Campus

Request for Proposals
November 20, 2019

Request for Proposals
The UNM Substance Use Disorders (SUD) Grand Challenge would like to announce our second Request for Proposals (RFP) to fund pilot research projects focused on methamphetamine, alcohol mortality, and/or polysubstance use. We aim to support systematic research that addresses the continuum of substance use to SUD, including: 1) basic science research elucidating processes of substance use and SUD, 2) primary prevention of substance use and SUD, 3) secondary prevention of the progression of substance use to SUD, and substance-related harms, through early identification and intervention, 4) improving treatment outcomes for individuals with SUD, and 5) policy evaluation and implementation to address the continuum of substance use, SUD, and substance-related harms. Proposals are due November 22, 2019. For more information, please see: https://grandchallenges.unm.edu/three-grand-challenges/substance-use-disorders/index.html

Valencia Campus Visit
November 13, 2019

Valencia Campus Visit

The Vice President for Research recently visited the Valencia Campus to explore ways to better partner with branch campus faculty in Grand Challenge research and education initiatives. Grand Challenges leaders visited with Valencia campus leaders, as well as the UNM Valencia Instructional Council. The Council provided many outstanding recommendations for leveraging the Grand Challenges to enrich undergraduate education at the branch and central campuses. Conversations also focused on possible undergraduate research collaborations. In addition, Valencia faculty showcased three great undergraduate student researchers who are working on water-related projects, one of whom is now continuing his education at UNM Central Campus. These researchers and their projects are recognized on the Grand Challenges Student Research website (https://grandchallenges.unm.edu/education/student-research.html).


Successful Aging Pilot Research Projects
November 13, 2019

Successful Aging Pilot Research Projects

The Successful Aging team recently sponsored four pilot research projects. The sixteen Principal Investigators and Co-Investigators for these proposals came from eleven different UNM departments/units and community organizations. On October 30, 2019, Successful Aging leaders met together with the pilot project leaders to help facilitate cross-pollination among the pilot teams, and to help share resources. Project titles and personnel can be found at: https://grandchallenges.unm.edu/three-grand-challenges/successful-aging/index.html.


Substance Use Disorders Team Selects New Pilot Projects
November 13, 2019

Substance Use Disorders Team Selects New Pilot Projects

For the first time at UNM students in recovery or seeking recovery from substance abuse and other addictions have an official meeting space to help them in their journey. The UNM Collegiate Recovery Center (CRC), located in the basement of Logan Hall, is modeled after similar programs at other Universities. The center is open each day from noon – 3 p.m. Programing includes four meetings a week: Mindfulness for Recovery (Monday at 3 p.m.), Recovery Talk (Thursday at 12:30 p.m.), AA Meeting (Friday at 1 p.m.), Veterans in Recovery (Friday at 3 p.m.). “This is a very important population on campus that is underserved,” Department of Psychology Program Specialist, Marni Goldberg said. Goldberg notes that it’s important students understand this is not a treatment center and does not include counseling sessions. Although, she can issue referrals. “We’re here to support students who are in recovery from substance abuse, gambling, sex, food and whoever is on a recovery journey,” she said. Goldberg is running the program along with eight volunteer students. In 2019, CRC was was awarded a $3,000 UNM Grand Challenges pilot grant to initiate programming and to complete a campus-wide needs assessment, partnering with COSAP.


Sustainable Water Resources Collaboration Workshop
November 13, 2019

Sustainable Water Resources Collaboration Workshop

The Sustainable Water Resources team conducted a workshop on November 12, 2019 to foster research interdisciplinary collaboration in anticipation of applying for upcoming research grants, including the following programs: NSF Research Traineeship, NSF Sustainable Urban Systems Research Centers, NSF Biology Integration Institutes, NSF CNH2 Dynamics of Integrated Socio-Environmental Systems.  More than 30 faculty researchers from at least 14 academic departments actively participated in these focused discussions.


Community Engagement Research
November 13, 2019

Community Engagement Research

A team of UNM geographers sponsored by the Sustainable Water Resources Grand Challenge, led by Dr. Benjamin Warner, and including Tucker Colvin, Amy Jones, Rachel Sanchez, and Indu Roychowdhury, is documenting the challenges faced by rural New Mexican communities as they work to manage their aging drinking water systems. The team uses surveys and qualitative interviews to engage with rural water managers across the state.  Researchers have found that the ability of water managers to address long-term challenges to water sustainability like drought is compromised by a myriad of short-term governance challenges.


New GC Student Research Webpage.
November 13, 2019

New GC Student Research Webpage.

Check out the new Grand Challenge webpage devoted to showcasing the challenge-related research conducted by UNM graduate and undergraduate students (https://grandchallenges.unm.edu/education/student-research.html).  Among the student research included there are posters presented at Shared Knowledge Conference (hosted by the Office of Graduate Studies).  Shared Knowledge Conference is an outstanding multi-disciplinary showcase for graduate student research and included 16 research projects that help address the three Grand Challenges.